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You and the open road: car types to consider for solo trips

You've finally done it — you've decided to take that solo road trip you’ve been dreaming about forever.  The most liberating part? You can do what you want, whenever you want to do it. Whether you're traveling down the coast of California, up to your favorite beach town or hitting your national park bucket list — you’ll need the best car to do it in.

The “best” car all depends on where you’re going and what adventures you’ll be embarking on during your solo trip. Does your trip require a lot of equipment? Do you plan on traveling light? Are you spending a lot of time in your vehicle, or does it just take you from point A to point B? We’ll dive into popular trips for solo travel and discuss what type of car will be the best fit for your adventure.

Cars for solo road trips: an overview

The following are examples of common road trip cars and their uses:

  • SUVs: large vehicles that often have three rows. Good for long distances with a lot of gear, most have all wheel drive ideal for trekking through different terrains, and some come with off-road capabilities.
  • Compact truck: smaller truck with pickup capabilities. Ideal off-roading and transporting small boats or other large travel gear and equipment.
  • Hybrids: a vehicle that uses both gas and electricity for power, seen as a more fuel-efficient travel option. Some hybrids have charging capabilities while others just use gas.
  • Convertibles: small car with roof removal capabilities. Ideal for scenic beach drives where you’re looking to experience the outdoors as you drive.
  • Mobile homes: mobile homes are the best option if you’re looking to drive, live and sleep all in one spot. Usually, mobile homes have a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom amenities and can be parked at a campsite for a night under the stars.

Best car for solo ski trip

Whether you're headed to a ski resort nearby, out west or even up to Alaska, you'll need the right car. It must be good with rugged, icy terrain while keeping you cozy after hitting the slopes. You'll also want space for your equipment: skis, snowboards, boots, coats and any other supplies you'll need to have on hand.

Since it's a solo trip, a large SUV may not be entirely necessary, and a small SUV should suffice. You'll want to look out for the following features in a car for a ski trip:

  • Four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD): These terms are typically used interchangeably, but, are slightly different in function. Both are good for slippery conditions, but if you'll be adventuring into rugged terrain, 4WD is your best bet. If you'll be in the mountains but don't plan on driving off road much, AWD should suffice.
  • Tri-zone automatic climate control: Keeps everyone comfortable from front seat to back, and helps prevent windows from fogging with the additional vents
  • Heated seats and steering wheel: When it’s time to leave the slopes, getting a hug of heat after spending the day in the snow is something you’ll appreciate.
  • Ground clearance: This is the distance between your car’s underbelly and the ground.  Better clearance means you're less likely to get stuck on a high pile of snow.
  • Snow tires: Make sure your car’s tires are meant for driving in the snow. This may cost extra but will be worth the confidence, that your car is equipped for the driving conditions.

Best car for solo beach trip

We know what you're thinking — a convertible is perfect for those sunny beach days. The salty air in your hair and freedom of driving with the wind is enough to commit to this type of vehicle. You do, however, want to keep in mind the car’s functionality. Some convertibles sit close to the ground and can be frustrating to get beach gear in and out of, while others are perfect for zooming around town with your surfboard in the back.

You'll want to think about how convertibles do in the heat. Dark leather interiors heat up quickly in the sun, so opt for one with lighter colored seats. Finding a model with air conditioning, good gas mileage and a roomie trunk or back seat for beach items is key.

You can find a relatively inexpensive car with an optional convertible top and a decent amount of seating for increased cargo capacity. This type of ride may even have off-road ability, so you can drive right onto the sand.

Best car for solo wine country trip

Getting ready to hit the vineyards? Famous wine countries like Napa and Sonoma allow you to plan a trip through their transportation booking services. You can inform them you'll be traveling alone and are looking for an individual tour guide, or you can say you're willing to join a group tour if that’s your preference.

There really isn’t one best type of car for this experience and ultimately, not too concerning as you'll be otherwise occupied with various tannins and aromas. You can request anything from a luxury vehicle to a passenger van and more through reputable wine country tour websites. If you opt to safely drive yourself, a hybrid that focuses on fuel efficiency so you can drive from vineyard to vineyard in an eco-friendly way may be the way to go.

Outside of wine tours, you may be looking to do some exploring on your own. Northern California is known for scenic, windy roads that leave you itching to get behind the wheel. Look out for cars with good traction, stability and turn response so you can glide around the country with confidence and ease.

Best car for hiking trips and national parks

If you're an outdoor enthusiast looking for a place to stow your gear for an exciting journey of hiking and camping, you'll need a car that can do it all. Whatever weather, terrain or climate you encounter — your vehicle must meet your needs.

SUVs and crossovers will be your best friend on this adventurous trip. SUVs are based on a truck platform, while crossovers look and act like an SUV, but are based on a car platform. A large SUV with off-roading capabilities will be good from a safety and cargo capacity perspective. If you're more comfortable in a smaller vehicle, a crossover will be good for you. Crossovers usually have better fuel-efficiency if you're looking to save on gas.

Overall, you'll want the following:

  • Room for gear and back-up equipment
  • Off-roading capabilities and appropriate tires
  • All wheel or four-wheel drive
  • Large trunk
  • A back seat
  • Ground clearance
  • Highly responsive steering

Eco-friendly car options for your trip

If you’re looking for a way to minimize your carbon footprint, look for cars with fuel efficiency options. Some vehicles come with an “eco” option — a setting that improves fuel efficiency while driving.

Another option is a hybrid vehicle. Hybrids operate with both an electric car battery and gas to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions along the way. Some hybrids have a charging portal while others just take gas, but switch power between the electric battery and gas for fuel-efficiency.

If you’re going on a long solo road trip, an electric vehicle may be difficult depending on where you are. Although mileage on EVs is getting better and better, if you’re traveling in an area without many charging stations, this option may cause a bit of a headache. We recommend researching your route to determine if this option will work for you.

How to budget for your car’s maintenance while on the road

Budgeting for gas and maintenance along the road is an important road trip best practice.  Once you know where you’re traveling to and for how long, overestimate how many times you’ll stop for gas, so you have more than enough money for fuel along the way.

Technical difficulties may arise along the way, especially when traveling long distances. It’s not realistic to have a safety net for every possible emergency, but it’s good to have cushion money in case something goes wrong.

The bottom line

Road tripping has become a popular way to travel and doing it solo is both impressive and empowering. Before embarking on your journey, it’s important to find a vehicle that meets your level of desired comfort and space. Once you’ve found your perfect ride you can feel confident when you hit the road. Enjoy your trip!

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